Weekend Gardener

Weekend Gardener Coast Walks ArticleView article as a PDF.

You are about to follow the sacred footprints of Manaia and all of his ancestors, says the track sign. Many of us know Whangarei Heads, the towering and rugged remnant of an ancient volcanic rim that once ran out to sea to the Hen and Chicken Islands 12km offshore. We are familiar with ‘Bream Head’ (to Cape Colville) through daily weather forecasts at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour. This picturesque area that looks across the narrow heads to the Marsden Point Oil Refinery at Ruakaka is just three hours north of Auckland. It first attracted European settlers in the 1860s but now a new wave of visitors flock there to walk ancient tracks. The walkers are mostly babyboomers and Bream Head Coast Walks, the brainchild of local schoolteacher Claire Pearson, is the latest in a national line up of ‘must do’ walks. Claire and husband Mark made the walks all the more accessible when they created a lodge (three bedrooms and a bunkroom for 12 guests) on their 33ha lifestyle block. The lodge’s superb site on the lower slopes of Mt Manaia overlooks the ocean and Bream Head is ideally sited for a walking base. The view takes in farmland and the sea and at night you can wander up the bush valley path and listen to call of the little North Island brown kiwi – now in good numbers in the area thanks to an enthusiastic conservation programme – and morepork making their distinctive calls and screeches. Claire is a keen gardener and samples of her produce make the table at the lodge where home-cooked country fare is on offer. Bream Head Coast Walks has an assortment of walks of varying difficulty on its doorstep, with superb native flora and bird life. Usually visitors do three days of walks (no guides) taking in farmland, Ocean Beach and the tracks of the old volcano ridges, Bream Head (Te Whara), Mt Lion, Mt Aubrey and Mt Manaia. On the first day, walkers head for Ocean Beach across farmland (the tour operation has a legal easement over a neighbours’ farm) to the sandhills, the highest point, Kauri Mountain and past nesting dotterels and oystercatchers. The Pearsons provide a pick-up for those who do not want to retrace their way back to the lodge to complete a circular walk. Day two is more of a test, the 7.5km Te Whara track from Ocean Beach to Urquharts Bay is a spectacular old trail. Locals say its hundreds of years old. The ruins of a World War 11 naval radar station that was manned by 25 personnel and linked to the gun at Home Point at the entrance of the harbour perches high atop the jagged coastline. We climb onto an outcrop for a view of the Old Woman, at one of the highest points (476m) of the track. You can continue all the way to Smugglers Cove and the Busby Head or turn down the easy Peach Cove shell pathway that leads down to Ocean Beach Rd and the starting point at the carpark. Visitors agree this is the hardest day, along the sand and up the grassy ridge of the jagged head itself. But the views to the Poor Knights Islands, the Hen and Chickens, and around to Bream Tail worth it, as is the birdlife. We see tui, enormous wood pigeons (kereru), bellbirds, kaka and little tomtits along the way, making it an exciting walk, even if underfoot it is a bit rough in places. Few mainland walks have such a magnificent combined chorus. This area of the Bream Head Scenic Reserve, like the surrounds of Mt Manaia, is northern rainforest at its best and a success story for DoC and the local conservation trust in ridding the area of predators. The area has some 380 native plant species including the uncommon, small growing West Coast kowhai, Sophora fulvida with its big yellow flowers, The handsome Northland horopito, Pseudowintera insperata is endemic to Bream Head while the infamous parapara or birdcatcher tree, Pisonia brunoniana, a flowering tree in the Bougainvillea family, is common in the area. For most walkers, day three is the hike up Mt Manaia (420m), once the sacred burial ground of important Maori. The ‘walk’ is all of 1000 wooden steps (view www.1000stepsnorthland.co.nz) and for us this superbly built track is a highlight with fine stands of Gardening is one New Zealand’s best loved leisure activities, overtaken in popularity only by walking. Rob Lahood is invited to do some historic walks in Northland. The volcanic dyke at Taurikura Bay is a natural causeway and wharf and one of the best examples of its kind in New Zealand. Nature’shelper kauri, northern rata and puriri. Five pou (sculptures) of Manaia ‘the taproot of all tribes in Northland’ welcome you at the start and to the challenge of the climb to the incredibly jagged summit. The return trip from the carpark next to the Manaia Club on Whangarei Heads Rd between McLeod Bay and Taurikura Bay will take you two hours or more. Another option on day three is the circular loop of Mt Aubrey which, although overshadowed by the towering Mt Manaia in the clouds above, is another bush gem as part of the Manaia Ridge Scenic Reserve. Other highlights are the 19th century freezing works ruins at Reotahi and the short coastal track from little Munro Bay to Reotahi, which skirts around the area’s marine reserve. But both these tracks were affected by a slip at the time of our visit. The walking track from Urquharts Bay to Busby Head is an easy jaunt. It takes in the pillbox and gun emplacement at Home Point, and views back down the Whangarei Harbour. There are vistas to turquoise waters below and beautiful, white sand Smugglers Bay. This well-formed track is suitable for walkers of all ages and levels of fitness. It is studded with magnificent pohutukawa and is simply a coastal delight. Bream Head is a treat for visitors, the home of Manaia, an area of magical natural beauty.